Sep 082016
 
Providence Grain Marengo SK

The always on the go BIGDoer.com crew are in the tiny burg of Marengo Saskatchewan to document the Providence Grain facility located there. Join us for a tour of this working grain elevator. It’s a bit different and is not one of the those high-throughput concrete super terminals common today, even if it sort of approaches them in capacity. Instead it’s a mix of old and new technologies, vintage wood grain elevators and storage annexes, modern metal storage bins, state of the art processing plant, computer controls, all working together in an efficient and productive way.

It may look a little strange, cobbled together, piecemeal, but functions well. And that’s where it counts.

The Marengo plant processes cereal grains of all types, plus peas and lentils. In function, it’s all fairly simple even if the machinery required to do is not. Trucks have their load sampled and if okay dump their contents into a vast conveyor, auger and lifting system network. The product may get routed to a specific bin for storage, or may alternately pass through a cleaning plant prior to that.

Providence Grain – Marengo Saskatchewan: a look at a working grain elevator, that’s both old and incredibly modern. Researched, written and photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart (BIGDoer/Synd/CanadianEncy)

Later the grain is loaded into rail cars for delivery to customers on the continent or to export terminals. In terms of product moved, it’s on a big scale. Not quite the level of those concrete leviathans spoken of earlier, but way more than the typical rural grain elevator of not all that long ago, which at best filled a hand full of cars at a time.

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At the centre of the Marengo Plant is some wood structures dating back some thirty to fifty years (and possibly more). The exact lineage of each part has sort of been lost to time but we have found a few scattered and incomplete bits of data here and there. The core elevator, it’s believed, dates from the mid-1960s and replaced an earlier much older structure on the same plot. One of the three annexes seen, it’s said, dates from the early 1980s. The other two, well, no one is completely sure. They likely date from at least the post 1940s given their appearance. By the way, annexes, usually added sometime after an elevator was built, are simply separate storage buildings tied into a main structure and used to increase capacity.

Marengo SK Elevator

Providence Grain’s Marengo Saskatchewan Elevator.

The original owners of the complex was United Grain Growers. The firm was a big wheel in the Canadian Grain Industry and had elevators all over the prairies. Merged with a rival network in the early 2000s they divested themselves of this facility around that time.

Shortly after a firm called Meridian Grain, in partnership with Paterson Grain (a long time albeit smaller player), took over. For the last four years or so the plant has been run by Providence Grain Solutions, a producer owned co-op. This firm is fairly new on the scene but is up and coming and rapidly expanding its operations. They have a good number of grain handling facilities across the prairies.

It was during the Meridian/Providence Grain period that all those metal storage bins were added increasing the plant’s capacity several fold. They are crazy-huge, the tallest things around, and really dwarf the original wood complex. Views from the top are incredibly far reaching! No matter the size or age of each piece, they whole complex operates as one cohesive unit. I was expecting some sort of Red Green duct-taped together undependable monstrosity but instead saw a well oiled machine that worked smoothly.

Depending on the time of year, a good half dozen men are employed at the complex. Hours can be long during harvest season with a steady stream of of trucks coming and going and trains visiting more frequently than during the rest of the year. On our visit, things were pretty quiet overall. A train was due, then got bumped to another day.

In the past there was several other elevators in Marengo, some dating back to the 1910s. Notable firms represented include Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Searle Grain and Federal Grain along with some smaller firms. It’s possible one or two of the annexes on the current structure may have been salvaged off those competing elevators on their closure. The last of these “other” elevators were gone by the early 1980s.

The railway line seen belongs to Canadian National Railways. It was built by predecessor Canadian Northern Railways in the early 1910s. It used to connect Calgary with Saskatoon and was a fairly busy stretch of track, but today has been cut back to a point just west of Marengo. The main commodity hauled along the line, as it’s always been, is grain.

Trains travel the line several times a week minimum, often in an unpredictable manner. The Marengo Elevator typically loads something around fifty cars at a time. They were waiting on some during our visit, which were rather overdue in arriving (not a strange occurrence in talking with many elevator operators). As a result of the late train some bins were full to overflowing and space was becoming a premium, for some commodities anyway.

We had hoped we’d capture the loading of the train and planned this visit around it’s arrival. Silly us thinking it would be on time!

Cars are moved about on the three loading tracks by either a road/rail “Shuttlewagon” or a tractor equipped with a rail coupler. They might look too small for the task but can move cars with ease.

Marengo Saskatchewan Elevator

The view from high up.

The car loading station is equipment with an fall-arresting device, in simple terms a cable strung between steel girders (those yellow things in the pictures at trackside) that workers tie into. It keeps them from hitting the ground should they trip while moving on the top of a car. It takes a good many minutes to fill a grain hopper, then the cut is moved so a new empty one can take its place. In no time, they’ve got a train load.

The town of Marengo is located in the far-east central part of the province and was founded just over a century ago (as we always say) with the coming of the railway. It’s home today to a few dozen people, give or take, including one or two fellows who work at the elevator seen here. In times past, during the great settlement boom of long ago, it was of course far more populated and much busier. One of the only other businesses in town, beside the elevator, is the hotel/pub.

We’ve visited this same grain elevator before, about a year ago. At the time we called it a something akin to a mutant given its unconventional appearance (see: Marengo’s crazy Frankenvator). Knowing what we know today and seeing how it works so well, I think that was perhaps a touch harsh. It’s not the monster we thought it was.

More working grain elevators…
Bashaw Processors.
Buffalo 2000.
Prairie Sentinels – Hussar Alberta.
Prairie Sentinels – Admiral Saskatchewan.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: July, 2016.
Location: Marengo, SK.
Article references and thanks: Providence Grain, The helpful crew at Marengo, Rick Green, United Grain Growers, University of Manitoba.
The elevator is on private property and not open to visitors but can be viewed from public roads nearby.

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Marengo Grain Elevator

The huge metal bins are a fairly recent addition.

Marengo SK Grain Elevator

Better views than some mountains we’ve been on.

Marengo Saskatchewan Grain Elevator

The tower supports all the pipes and conduits that lead to the various bins.

Grain Elevator Marengo

It’s all quite complex.

Grain Elevator Saskatchewan

A long way down – and this author terrified of heights.

Grain Elevator Marengo SK

At the core of the complex is the old wood elevator seen below.

Grain Elevator Marengo Saskatchewan

Our helpful guide.

Providence Grain Marengo

It all starts here – grain is dumped in this grate.

Providence Grain Marengo SK

It’s tradition to list the town on the side of an elevator.

Grain Sampling

First step on a truck arriving, the grain is sampled using this remote suction nozzle.

Grain Truck Marengo

Given the okay, the truck moves to the unloading station. BIGDoer-mobile photo bomb!

Tractor Rail Car Mover

This tractor is used to move rail cars about.

Shuttlewagon

For bigger jobs, this “Shuttlewagon” road/rail car mover is used.

Marengo Providence Grain

The worker fall arresting device (yellow thing) can be seen over the tracks.

Unloading Grain Marengo

It’s a tight squeeze.

Cleaning Grain

The grain cleaning plant.

Marengo Wood Annex

Inside one of the wood annexes.

Grain Elevator Cat

Elevators often have resident cats to keep mice under control.

Grain Elevator Interior

For backup, they keep track of what’s where here…

Grain Elevator Control Station

The control room.

Model Grain Elevator

In the lunch room.

Marengo SK Providence Grain

A storm rolls in.

Marengo Saskatchewan Providence Grain

Hoping to shoot the elevator at night but then it just rained and rained and rained.

Grain Elevator in Marengo

Sunrise at Marengo.

Grain Elevator in Marengo SK

The oldest bits are seen here.

Grain Elevator in Marengo Saskatchewan

And with the sun, we’re on to the next gig.

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10 Comments on "Providence Grain – Marengo Saskatchewan"

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Hans Normandale
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Hans Normandale

Really nice photographs Chris.

Steve Boyko
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Steve Boyko

Great writeup and beautiful photos!

I’d still call it a bit of a Frankenvator with the three annexes, bins and the central elevator. 🙂

Richard Walker
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Richard Walker

(via Facebook)
Good shots. I hope to be by there at the end of October to check it out in person.

Adam LeLacheur
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Adam LeLacheur

(via Facebook)
It really is a Frankenelevator.

Tage Bloom
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Tage Bloom

Pass this elevator all the time and it’s interesting to see how it works. So you’re afraid of heights and did that?

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